The Power of the Supernatural:
Churches are quite prone to the rise of abusive leadership – particularly churches that embrace the supernatural. This is because the presence of the supernatural in the life of a leader – in the form of healings, deliverances, the prophetic, etc. – can confirm his higher symbolic status in the eyes of his followers, and open the way for a considerably more dysfunctional leader-follower relationship. There can be a strong sense that to reject the leader is to reject God, and therefore to invite His sternest judgment. This strengthens the fear and compliance of followers. Abusive leaders in a supernatural context are prone to using such threats as, “Don’t touch God’s anointed!” This helps them to avoid any questions or accountability. After all, who would argue with God?
The sense of the grandiose “power” of the leader is especially appealing to insecure followers who want someone else to rescue them and take care of them. Moreover, the leader represents what the follower wants to be. Thus, his success becomes the follower’s success, protecting the follower from confronting his own inadequate relationship with God.
Because churches are filled with people who (rightly so) acknowledge their weaknesses and need for help, Christian leaders who are gifted in supernatural ways by God must particularly guard against the rise of abusive tendencies in their hearts.
The Downward Spiral of Exploitation:
Domineering leaders often entangle their followers in a downward spiral of exploitation. First, they offer a grandiose vision and confidently encourage followers to accomplish it. Followers, however, soon find themselves in an untenable position. Because of their leader’s optimism, they have underestimated the constraints facing the mission as well as the resources they need but currently lack. As a result, performance inevitably falls short of the leader’s high expectations. Wishing to comply with their leader’s wishes, however, followers continue to strive. Soon, their performance appears substandard as they fall behind.
Although initially the leader will blame the outside world or the devil for undermining the mission, his attention will eventually turn to the followers. Conditioned to accept their leader’s viewpoint and not to challenge it, followers willingly receive the blame from their leader. Over time, they begin to “learn helplessness.” Believing themselves inherently deficient, they lose hope for future endeavors and lose confidence in their own ability to successfully obey God and fulfill His will. Thus, instead of building up and empowering his followers, the leader gradually destroys them and creates highly (and helplessly) dependent individuals.
This downward spiral is depicted in the following graphic:
Our next Letter will continue this study of abusive leaders.
Next Letter: The Effect of Leaders: Developing or Enslaving Others?